Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  Feb. 20, 2002 at 5:22 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Southern Californians were astonished this week to hear three well-known actors campaigning for union votes on KNX, the local CBS radio affiliate.

The station's news show was followed by a commercial with Elliott Gould addressing members of the Screen Actors Guild who happened to be listening.

Gould advised listeners of the importance of voting for himself, actor Kent McCord and actress Valerie Harper in a re-vote of a recent guild election.

Like the George W. Bush-Al Gore brouhaha over Florida's vote in the presidential election, hues and cries were raised over election irregularities.

But as with many movieland scenarios, plot twists were as plentiful as in Robert Altman's film.

The two warring factions in the SAG are led by actresses: Melissa Gilbert and Valerie Harper.

Both women are highly regarded television stars and very visible guild members.

In a close recent election, Gilbert was acclaimed the winner in the race for president.

Elected with her were Gould as treasurer and McCord as recording secretary.

Those are the only three elective offices in the 98,000-member guild, only a fraction of which saw fit to cast ballots.

A curious twist is that Gould and McCord were dissatisfied with the results, although both won their respective races.

They are not exactly sore winners. Both actors object to the fact that many New York guild member's votes were not counted because of a technicality.

Gould, McCord and Harper demanded -- and got -- a new election based on more equitable balloting, much to the chagrin of Gilbert and members of her camp.

Curiously, Mike Farrell (one time "M*A*S*H" co-star, and long-time lightweight champion of politically correct causes) has attacked the stand taken by the triumvirate of Harper, Gold and McCord.

As did President-elect Bush in the post-election mire of accusations, actress Gilbert has chosen to rise above the current squabble by refusing to comment. Instead, Farrell, Quixote-like, has taken a stand as defender of the status quo to battle the insurgents.

Among the issues at stake are the major problems of runaway production of motion pictures and television to Canada, which offers tax advantages to producers and the cheaper exchange of the Canadian dollar, which saves studios and independent filmmakers millions of dollars.

Increasingly, Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and other Canadian cities are attracting Hollywood companies to come north.

Actor McCord, who has spent some 32 years deeply immersed in SAG problems and protocol, is perhaps the most knowledgeable of all members on the rules, precepts and legalities of the union.

Casual listeners who heard the appeals of Gould, McCord and Harper may have been mystified, but their messages were directed in 30-second commercials to thousands of fellow guild members.

"What we believe is that every vote in our elections should be counted," McCord said. "And that Rule One, the rights of SAG members should be recognized wherever their work is done.

"We also are involved with subsidies that effect where movies and TV shows are produced.

"More than a billion dollars a year is taken from the Southern California economy by production in Canada. It's not just movie companies and actors, but all the support organizations and industries that rely on Hollywood economically."

McCord said runaway production has an effect on catering companies, restaurants, limousines, car rentals, building materials, utilities and other businesses that rely on entertainment production.

New ballots have been sent to guild members. They are to be marked, signed and returned to SAG headquarters in Hollywood next month.

The recent election was in reality two elections: one in Hollywood, the other in New York.

The Hollywood votes were tallied several days earlier than the New York ballots, many of which were unsigned and thus went uncounted.

This discrepancy was sufficiently vital to affect the results of the election, especially in the matter of Harper vs. Gilbert for the presidency.

It is significant that Gould and McCord have nothing personally to gain if they are re-elected, and could lose their positions in the guild.

"This is a matter of principle," McCord said. "We are doing what we think is right ... what we believe is fair to everyone in the guild, not just the officers.

"Elliott, Valerie and I believe the guild can be effective in helping lobby for tax relief and other economic remedies that will help to even the playing field for American films and TV shows here in Hollywood.

"Entertainment is a major economic resource to this part of the country and the SAG can play an important role in keeping employment here in Southern California."

Suddenly, a show business union has become a prime player in the larger arena of big business as a major industry seeks relief from foreign incursions on its turf.

McCord envisions a major return of production to the cradle of show business.

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